The Dial Press, New York, 1980
In response to World War I, Magda's father acquired an interest in the "peaceful teaching" of Gautama Siddartha – the Buddha. And through her father Magda became devoted to Buddhism. "Buddhist literature," writes Meisner, "was always to be found by her bedside."
Magda Ritschel was from "a good family." She was "high society," and, as this implies, she was "educated." In 1921 she married a multi-millionaire industrialist, Günther Quandt. She gave birth to a son and was divorced after nine years of marriage. Prior to her marriage, Magda's maiden name was Behrend. Her stepfather was a Jew: Richard Friedlander.
She is described as having been little interested in politics. Perhaps out of boredom, one evening she went to a political rally that had as its main speaker Joseph Paul Goebbels. She was fascinated by his fiery oratory and gestures. In his speech Goebbels was full of praise for Hitler and full of scorn for his political party's enemies. A day or so later, Magda purchased Hitler's book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and she must have been impressed by Hitler's drive to do things for Germany. She volunteered for party work, but without fervor. She was not the kind for fervor in work or politics. She met Goebbels who jumped at the opportunity to associate with a stately-looking high society blonde with an air of culture.
Magda and Goebbels married in December 1931, with Adolf Hitler in attendance as the second witness. In the 1930s Magda bore six children for Goebbels, and, with Hitler not being married, she won recognition as "the First Lady of the Third Reich." Meisner writes that "The Goebbels family was presented to the public as the model family of the Third Reich," and he writes of Goebbels being a womanizer and carrying on extramarital affairs while Magda did also, with Joseph's deputy, Karl Hanke.
In the late 1930s Joseph Goebbels fell in love with a famous Czech actress, Lída Baarova. He moved Baarova into his villa. He wanted to leave Magda, quit his position as Nazi party propaganda chief, leave Germany with Baarova or perhaps stay in the Nazi party and become ambassador to Japan. Hitler was "flabergasted" and ordered Goebbels to end his affair with Baarova immediately. Goebbels obeyed Hitler. Baarova's films were banned in Germany and she returned to Czechoslovakia. The affair with Baarova had lasted from September 1936 to August 1938.
After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 and Britain and France entered the war, Goebbels was uneasy, thinking that perhaps Hitler had miscalculated. Goebbels was unenthusiastic about war, recognizing war as risky business and seeing it as his possible undoing. By the end of 1941, during the cold winter and the failure to capture Moscow, Goebbels asked Hitler to begin all those measures for total warfare – which were to go into effect but much later in the war. (Hitler was reluctant to ask greater sacrifices from the German people, preferring to let them think he could accomplish his goals without hardships for his civilians.) With the failue of the offensive against Moscow, Goebbels complained to his family that if the war was lost it was " that fool" Goering who was responsible, because Goering had not made the success of the Luftwaffe that he should have. And Goebbels complained of "that conceited ass ... that good-for-nothing Ribbentrop, who was only fit to peddle his wife's family's champagne around."
In 1942, when things were going badly for Germany on the eastern front against the Russians, a conversation took place between Hitler and Magda's companion, Eleonore Quandt – her former sister-in-law – that may surprise some readers of this review. It was an evening get-together to celebrate Goebbels' birthday, but the atmosphere at the gathering was gloomy. Eleonore had entered the room and had draped a silver fox fur over the arm of her chair, next to Hitler. Hitler looked at it and said,
Tell me dear lady, do you realize that innocent animals are killed simply that you may wear this fur?
Ello Quandt replied that she did not find the fate of foxes excessively tragic. Hitler thought for a few seconds and replied.
That's just what's wrong, that we no longer understand the tragedy of things. If only everybody realized that the destruction of only one life cannot be vindicated, so many things would be different and better.
Magda, meanwhile, was responding to the failures on the Eastern Front with despondency. During a speech by Hitler on November 9, 1942 that she was listening to on the radio with friends, she switched the radio off and, according to Meisner, sputtered, "My God what a lot of rubbish."
By the beginning of 1944, writes Meisner, Magda was "growing increasingly despondent." She realized that Germany would not win the war, and she was concerned about a grievous end for leaders of the Third Reich. And she had grown critical of Hitler. She complained:
He no longer listens to voices of reason. Those who tell him what he wished to hear are the only ones he believes.
Her husband, Goebbels, was saying things in private that he, as propaganda minister would not say publicly. Around the time that Hitler in a speech described Churchill as "an old whisky soak," in private Goebbels said,
This Churchill is one of the most admirable figures in all English history. He has not only got courage, but great intelligence as well. Look here, see what a fellow he is. He dared to say to the public quite frankly, "I offer you nothing but blood, sweat and tears." Again, look how this man pulled his country to its feet after Dunkirk. The Führer and I could not inspire the Germans with the promise of blood, sweat and tears.
Goebbels, writes Meisner, did not hesitate to vilify on the radio the man he had praised to his friends the previous evening. Goebbels, he writes, was a deceiver, an illusionist, by vocation, and "no illusionist believes in the illusions he himself fosters."
Goebbels would have preferred a negotiated settlement to the war that let Hitler and other Nazi party leaders disappear in some way or lead harmless quiet lives somewhere. This he thought would have saved, in Meisner's words, enormous losses of men, material and effort, as well as milliards (sic) in money. The failure at Stalingrad, Goebbels believed, might have been a "suitable juncture" for concluding " an honorable peace with the German people." And Goebbels wrote of Hitler's "disappointment and despondency" over his inability to achieve a reasonable peace treaty.
In the last days of the war, Goebbels had death on his mind. He said that "When we have got rid of the last of the half-Jews then we must proceed to eliminate the aristocrats." He described the aristocrats as "an alien element" that marries among themselves and thereby "intensify their degenerate proclivities." He described them as like the Jews in that they have "international blood relationships" -- in other words they were insufficiently nationalistic. Meisner reported him as saying that the aristocrats "...must be wiped out completely, men, women and children.." It was tragic," Goebbels admitted, that a few who were innocent would have to die with the guilty.
At the end of the war Goebbels chose to follow Hitler's example and commit suicide. The man who was willing to give up politics to live outside of Germany with the actress Lída Baarova wanted to demonstrate loyalty to Hitler and to die a hero's death. And he wanted to take his wife and children with him. The children, he said, were still too young to speak for themselves but if they were old enough, he claimed, they would associate themselves unreservedly with this decision.
Magda apparently went along with it. According to Meisner she fell back on her Buddhism – the Buddhism that had elements of Hinduism – reincarnation. Because her children were still innocent, she believed, they were guaranteed rebirth in more favorable conditions than in the life which had run its course. Magda, reports Meisner, once remarked to her friend Eleonore Quandt that "she wished to offer the children a new and better chance in life and for this they would first have to die."
The entire family died of poison injection. And Goebbels also destroyed his dogs.
The Goebbels Children: